Mary Higgins Clark, 1927-2020
February 2, 2020 9:03 AM   Subscribe

“Her style was clean — no profanity or sex — her heroines endearing and her resolutions tactful . . . . Her books embodied the spirit of a tabloid-adoring aunt ready to whisper to you about extraordinary danger just lurking around the corner, waiting to find you.” An obituary and appreciation by Sarah Weinman of the Los Angeles Times.

Higgins Clark published the first of her 51 books at age 42, writing in the early mornings and at night while raising five children after the death of her husband. The Queen of Suspense’s novels include A Stranger is Watching (1977), While My Pretty One Sleeps (1989), Loves Music, Loves to Dance (1991), Silent Night (1995), and many others.

Those of us who read more than one of her novels (and quickly learned not to worry about the heroine’s escape, no matter the peril, as well as how to spot the right villain from the get-go) might have giggled at the Associated Press’s description of her books as “tales of women beating the odds.”

Weinman points out that “She was the inflection point between the domestic suspense of an earlier era and recent psychological thriller blockbusters by Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and Megan Abbott.”
posted by sallybrown (18 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
When I had my first apartment, I remember going to the combo greeting card store/bookstore down the street, buying one of her paperbacks, and then spending the day reading. Her books were perfect for that time in my life—interesting plots, kind of predictable, and the woman always was ok in the end. I still have some of those paperbacks thirty-plus years later.
posted by bookmammal at 9:21 AM on February 2 [6 favorites]

My mom and I would trade these back and forth when I was in middle school/high school. The descriptions of the clothes always amused us - god forbid the heroine didn’t wear her Burberry! But they were always fun, cozy reads.
posted by stefnet at 9:25 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]

god forbid the heroine didn’t wear her Burberry!

These were the first “grown up” books I read (outside of school reading), and got all mixed up in my mind with The Gift of Fear and Oprah’s lessons about “never go to the second location!” MHC’s heroines always got lured to the second location (those dastardly suave-but-mysterious men!), but managed to fight like hell and survive thanks to a glamorous pair of stilettos, or a lipstick tube that they MacGyver’d into a weapon, or the belt from a fashionable trench coat, etc etc. Distinctly female weapons wielded by female characters who refused to give up and knew how to play the bad guys against themselves.
posted by sallybrown at 9:32 AM on February 2 [8 favorites]

I fondly recall several of her books I read many years ago.

but this:

Higgins Clark published the first of her 51 books at age 42, writing in the early mornings and at night while raising five children after the death of her husband

ok! I have been working on a pretty ambitious writing project for a LOOOONG TIME. and TIL that I have absolutely no excuses whatsoever. just shut up and write. damn.

posted by supermedusa at 10:01 AM on February 2 [26 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 11:13 AM on February 2

posted by oneswellfoop at 11:22 AM on February 2

Where would be a good place to start, for someone who hasn't read any of her books? (No children in peril, please.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:38 AM on February 2

posted by kathrynm at 11:39 AM on February 2

Where would be a good place to start, for someone who hasn't read any of her books? (No children in peril, please.)

It’s been many years since I read her books, but Loves Music, Loves to Dance and While My Pretty One Sleeps were both memorable ones. All Around the Town too, but it involves a child who was in peril at one point, but that child grows up to be the heroine of the book, so you’re not wondering if she survived (more about what happened to her).

Just keep in mind these books are really about the soapy plots, not so much the writing, and usually involve creepy (PG/PG-13) villainous guys as well as implausible twists. By soapy plots I mean they involve things that in real life are serious and damaging but are not really treated realistically in the books (like past rape), or completely unrealistic 80s heavy handed cliches (like multiple personality plots). Readers who find the twists and turns of General Hospital to be eye-rolling or offensive would have the same reaction here.
posted by sallybrown at 12:03 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]

Totally agree with sallybrown above. It’s all about the plot, not so much about the language/writing. They are fun, engrossing reads that don’t demand a lot from you.

I also remember enjoying Loves Music, Loves To Dance a lot. My very favorite was Where Are the Children, but that one definitely has the “children in peril” aspect.
posted by bookmammal at 12:15 PM on February 2

Mary Higgins Clark’s oeuvre is included in the Darkstarchive, as literature of exceptional utility, wit, insight, historical significance, and/or entertainment value to survivors of a Zombie Apocalypse.
posted by darkstar at 12:52 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]

posted by filtergik at 4:31 AM on February 3

posted by camyram at 4:37 AM on February 3

I was reading one of her books on my break at work when a co-worker tried to shame me for reading "woman books". Our boss, a woman, heard this and was not amused. I never thought of books as being for woman or men, unless it's about health etc.

Higgins Clark gave me hours and hours of reading pleasure. For that I am grateful.

posted by james33 at 4:37 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]

My Grandmother loved her books, especially the Christmas themed stories that always show up at the grocery store around the holidays.
posted by Beholder at 5:03 AM on February 3

She sort of burst on the scene and as far as I can tell there was a huge surge of delight from a whole cohort of middle aged, middle class, white women who had not seen themselves as protagonists in this kind of mystery thriller like they did with Clark's stuff - what felt like an 'everywoman' character grounded in the present.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:30 AM on February 3

I remember inhaling her books on trips to my grandmother's house in the 90s. There wasn't much to do on those visits except listen to the grown-ups talk (boring) or play with my cousins (also boring, too many boys and too much rough-housing). But, the bookshelves were fair game and to my delight were filled with lots of scandalous and age-inappropriate books, including many of Mary Higgins Clark's. Soapy indeed, but filled with capable women wearing interesting clothes and just enough danger to be compulsively readable.

Last year I made a decision that I was only going to pursue hobbies and interests that I liked as a pre-teen, as a way of honoring my inner-child and soothing my psyche in the face of our current political climate. I started drawing again, went ice skating, baked brownies. Unrelatedly, I also started reading thrillers written by women, buying one almost every time I went to the grocery store. It wasn't until a few months ago that I connected the dots and realized that my newfound love for books by the likes of Meg Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, and others was actually just a reincarnation of the days I spent sprawled on my grandmother's couch, reading Mary Higgins Clark.

posted by stellaluna at 10:50 AM on February 3 [3 favorites]

i have never read any of her books. for years i looked down my nose at james patterson, but have devoured his "alex cross" books. i think i will get one of hers from the library to give a try!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:09 AM on February 4

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